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More needs to be done for young people with mental health issues

By Megan Rose

The increasing prevalence of mental health issues among young people in the UK is receiving much more awareness - but recent studies strongly indicate that more needs to be done to help young people.

A recent study released by YouGov has found that 27% of British university students reported they have suffered from a mental health issue. Almost half, 47%, said their mental health has impacted on their day-to-day life.

The study, which surveyed 1,061 students, found that mental health problems were most prevalent among female students (34%) compared to their male peers (19%). Depression and anxiety were cited as the most common mental health ailments, with 63% noting that stress was a major burden on their studies and lives.

45% of respondents who identified themselves as LGBT reported they had suffered from a mental health problem, compared to 22% among their heterosexual peers. Overall, the study found that 1 in 4 students in the UK suffer from a mental health problem – and 1 in 3 females.

A recent study conducted by The Architect’s Journal in July 2016 found similar results. Over a quarter of the 450 architecture students surveyed (27%), reported they were receiving or had already received mental health support. Female students were found to be more likely to seek treatment for mental health issues than their male counterparts. 52% of respondents revealed they had serious concerns about the effects of their studies upon their mental wellbeing.

Those stressed about their graduate debt were found to display higher levels of anxiety and depression

As well as this, research carried out by the University of Southampton and Solent NHS trust in 2016 reported that student debt was a major contributor to depression – and even alcohol dependency - among university students.

The study, which involved more than 400 new undergraduate students, found that symptoms of anxiety and alcoholism became more severe among those who were saddled with financial problems. In fact, those who were stressed about their graduate debt were found to display higher levels of anxiety and depression.

A report written by the University of York in March 2016 also examined the rise in university students with mental health problems. The report found that 80% of universities identified a noticeable rise in the amount of students dealing with a mental health problem. The rising cost of fees, coursework deadlines and pressure to secure a graduate job were identified as possible causes of this increase. The report also concluded that NHS mental health services are ‘regularly failing to meet the needs of vulnerable people including students.’[1]

Mental health problems aren’t just identifiable among young people of university age. Some research has indicated that mental health issues can begin much earlier – at primary school age - and so there are calls for mental health services to provide high-quality support at the earliest stage as an urgent requirement.

55% of parents said they didn’t mention the topic of mental wellbeing with their children at all because they didn’t know what to say

A poll conducted by the teenage mental health charity stem4 in May found 78% of 300 GPs questioned reported a rise in young patients who display symptoms of a mental health problem compared to five years ago. 86% further revealed they were worried that young people who are waiting for mental health support would come to harm, while 87% agreed that further pressure on mental health services is likely to occur.

A 2015 poll highlighted that some children are failing to get support within the home, as well as from outside mental health services. The Opinion Matters survey shed light on parents’ fears about broaching the subject of mental health with their children. The poll, which involved 1,000 parents, found that 45% didn’t raise the subject of wellbeing, stress, anxiety or depression as they felt it wasn’t necessary. Overall, 55% of parents said they didn’t mention the topic of mental wellbeing with their children at all because they didn’t know what to say.

However, Kieran Goodwin, CEO of the World Youth Organisation, recently urged parents to become more attentive to mental health issues among younger children. In a piece written in The Independent, Goodwin outlined a small study he conducted which involved 250 young people, 44% of which stated they would turn to a friend if they felt they had a mental health problem, while only 26% would go to a parent. He also cited a poll conducted by the UK charity Young Minds who found similar results. 76% of respondents said they would turn to the internet for help, while only 16% said they would turn to their parents.

In response to this, Goodwin argued that parents should not view mental health as a ‘generation thing… [but] a serious health condition which has been around since the beginning of time.’[2] Becoming more attuned to the signs that a child may be suffering from a mental illness is imperative in ensuring they receive the help they need. But with the current strain on mental health services in the UK, this isn’t always the case.

Another study conducted by Young Minds between November and December 2014 examined the views that young people held about mental health services in the UK, as well as those of parents. The study involved 1,136 individuals and found that a quarter of 14- and 15-year-olds and 24% of young carers felt they didn’t possess sufficient knowledge on how to maintain good mental health. 73% of children and young people who had received help from a mental health service felt it was ‘extremely important’[3] that mental health services work together in order to provide the best possible care for sufferers.

In discussion groups, 14-18 year olds called for mental health information to be ‘normalised, easy to find and reliable – similar to the information on physical health.’[4] 93% said receiving mental health lessons run by an outside organisation would be helpful in becoming more informed about mental health. They also stated that schools should have trained staff who work full time in order to identify and support students who display symptoms of a mental health problem, as well as mental health being included in the curriculum.

This research has been supported by recent calls from the LGA urging councils to provide more mental health services for young children. As well as this, a study carried out in July found that NHS child mental health services are failing up to 4 out of 5 children who seek support for anxiety or depression. Overall, 6 in 10 children and young people across England are left without any help - despite continuous warnings from GPs that some are at risk if they fail to receive the appropriate support they need.

Does the internet make mental health problems for young people worse?

Research that was carried out by Parent Zone in 2016 examined the relationship between the internet and young people’s mental health. While it found that young people didn’t feel the internet was detrimental to their mental wellbeing, it did find that schools reported that ‘pupil mental health problems are getting more frequent and more severe.’[5] In addition, the research cited The Key’s 2015 summer report, which saw student’s mental health a key concern of head teachers, with two thirds stating it was an issue that worried them.[6]

In researching this feature, we tried very hard to find similar research that found anything positive about help for young people with mental health problems, or an indication that the problems, which have been steadily growing, are being addressed. We didn’t find any – but would love to hear from anyone who can provide anything positive in this area. Please get in touch.

While it holds true that many young people do receive excellent support for a mental health problem – whether it be anxiety, depression or stress – it is evident that the current climate in how children and young people’s mental health is dealt with throughout the UK requires major improvements. This isn’t solely confined to the NHS - but to schools, parents and young people themselves.

But what has the Government promised to do about it?

In July last year, Government ministers announced that £143 million was to be invested in children’s mental health services. Despite the figure being lower than the £250 million the Department of Health had anticipated, it finally looked like the Government had recognised the desperately rising demand in providing mental health services for young people.

Yet, over a year down the line, bodies who represent mental health trusts have experienced no real investment for extra services to be made available, with many saying it’s likely the money was spent on other NHS services.

And, although David Cameron announced in January that the Government was pledging to invest almost another £1 billion in NHS mental health services, a recent report has found this has also failed to make any real improvements to the majority of mental health trusts.

Despite these major discrepancies, it's clear that this increased awareness of mental health is having some effect. Whether or not the Government will act out accordingly in response to this remains another issue - but what does remain clear is that people are talking about mental health more openly - which has, and must eventually, count for something.

Image: Public Domain